Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau always has the same response when asked about an injured player, “Next man up.”
Unfortunately, the Bulls are running out of players, and the list of possible next men up in the frontcourt is down to just two, veteran journeyman Vladimir Radmanovic and 10-day contract signee, Malcolm Thomas.
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Thibodeau has already shown he doesn’t have a place for Radmanovic in his rotation. The 11-year veteran is a specialist, occasionally dangerous from the 3-point line, but his defensive skills are limited. That makes him a tough guy to use in the Thibodeau system. Which leads us to Thomas, who starred for the Bulls’ summer league team, averaging double figures in both points and rebounds.
At 6-9, 225 pounds, Thomas has a game that is very similar to Taj Gibson’s. He attacks the backboards on both ends, and is capable of changing momentum with a rim-rattling dunk. Thomas is also a solid defensive player and shot-blocker. So, the question is, will Thibodeau break from his past history with the Bulls, and give the former San Diego State star a chance to play some meaningful minutes down the stretch?
The Bulls’ front office has tried to give Thibodeau some late-season roster help in the past, signing free agent shooting specialist Rasual Butler about a month before the 2011 playoffs, and veteran NBA frontcourt reserve Lou Amundson just last month.
But in both cases, Thibodeau wasn’t comfortable using a player who didn’t go through training camp, and wasn’t familiar with the Bulls’ way of competing. Butler rarely played, then left the team as a free agent, while Amundson only got in one game for the Bulls before declining the chance to sign a second 10-day contract. Amundson preferred signing on with a bad New Orleans team, figuring correctly he’d have a better chance to get some regular playing time.
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Which takes us back to Thomas.
The Bulls got a long look at him this summer, but chose not to sign him to a guaranteed contract, and he wound up playing overseas. Upon returning to the U.S., he signed a 10-day contract with Golden State, and played limited minutes in five games. After his release from the Warriors, he came to Chicago, and is working on his second 10-day deal.
Now, I’m not trying to suggest Thomas is the answer to the Bulls’ frontcourt problems, but it might be worth giving him a spot in the rotation over the final nine regular season games. The Bulls are painfully short-handed up front now that Gibson has re-injured his left knee, and Joakim Noah’s status for the remaining regular season games is up in the air because of continuing issues with plantar fasciitis.
Nazr Mohammed has gone from seldom-used reserve to big-minutes starting center, and he is coming off his best game of the season with a double-double against Washington. But, when Thibodeau goes to the bench, he’s been forced to use extremely small lineups with Luol Deng at the power forward spot and either Jimmy Butler or Daequan Cook at the small forward.
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And, with all the injuries in the backcourt, the Bulls often wind up playing two point guards together in Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson. Which means they’re giving up size to just about every team in the league.
Maybe it’s time to give Thomas a look to see if can provide some Taj Gibson-style heart, hustle and muscle. And, if it doesn’t work out, what’s the harm? The Bulls could certainly use a boost as they get ready for the start of the playoffs later this month.